The garden cycle

Last weekend, with the trees not quite fully leafed out, the sun’s unabashed rays filled my back garden with Spring’s bright light. The place glowed with a certain timbre, like the soft glare off old early risers, the little plants that will mature and set seed before the canopy forms.

Until the garden grows and mulches the soil with its own shady cover, there’s an inordinate amount of weeding to do. The soil is moist and crumbly and the weeds came out easily. I grasp stem and leaves at ground level, rock the plant slightly to one side with a slight pull just barely beyond the point that the plant resists, and the root pops free. I shake it to free the soil still clinging to its roots. It’s good to have dirt under my fingernails again!

Weeds enjoy a success that’s astounding. Our efforts to eradicate them are a little comical — there is no way we’ll ever win. The weeding’s not unpleasant, though. It’s a chance to get a feel for things again, to check the soil’s tilth, and to get new green matter into the compost I’ve just started. I’m surprised at how much I think about that compost pile. The balance of nature’s uncontrived give and take creates a balance that our plots don’t usually enjoy.

What we ask of the garden is often more than we compensate it for, and then fertility declines. You can feel it: a thinness, even in heavy soil. The colour is wan. Composting is essential.

From what I remember from my 4H Club days, one-part to two-parts proportion between green materials and brown is a good rule: grass clippings, garden trimmings and weeds; brown leaves and hay. The addition of healthy garden soil and farm manure helps the composting process along. The vegetable peelings, coffee grounds and other miscellaneous kitchen waste I put in seem to amount to nearly nothing.

Adding them to the pile seems hardly worth the effort. Every couple of days, though, I add the odd kitchen scraps. It’s valuable for its minor nutrients and the microbial diversity it encourages. I push my garden fork into the pile once a week or so; When it seems to give, I turn it, move the dark, crumbly stuff into the garden and return the rest to the pile. Good compost can be slow in coming, and there’s little we can do but attend to it.

The work nurtures me, though, maybe as much as it nurtures the plants — this giving back to the good earth. Shepherding the utterly common along its way to fostering new life offers a glimpse of the wondrous side of living.